In February 2010, I had several creative writing projects simmering away, but I was happy with none of them. They felt like children who had somehow turned out to be nothing like me, and I had no idea how to handle them. Sick of struggling, I bundled myself into bed with my notebook and decided to indulge in the kind of over-descriptive, wallowing prose that I love to write but that nobody loves to read.
Since I was giving myself over entirely to pleasurable writing, without an audience, I used in the story what I could see in front of me. On the wall opposite my bed hangs a peculiar collection of objects. There is a woman made of mirror shards attached to netting, who came into being when I accidentally smashed a precious piece of furniture. Next to her is a dried piece of pondweed, shaped and plaited when it was still green on the lawn, next to the pond I had been cleaning out for my mother. It has now lost its chlorophyll and resembles a small, grey, calcified scalp with its braid still attached. Next to these, on a shelf, is a parrot feather my father mysteriously mailed to me in a tube. He has never told me how he came to possess it.
The over-worked description I scribbled that evening eventually became a whole novel, the first chapter of which, not surprisingly, required heavy editing. The pondweed plait became a mermaid’s scalp, and the catalyst for the protagonist’s journey.
Two interesting things happened while I wrote this book, over a period of ten weeks. Firstly, I realised towards the end that I had made the setting almost exactly resemble Peel, the seaside town in the Isle of Man where a large chunk of my family now resides. When it struck me, I went back to Peel and photographed the gorse-clotted paths, the stone tower on its bleak hill, and the seafront with its garrulous gulls, all of which played major parts in the finished novel.
Secondly, despite the obvious connection to Peel, I tried to maintain the vagueness of the setting, by giving the bay where much of the story’s significant action takes place an anonymous name. I called it Covey Bay, and thus decided on a name for the novel: The Covey Scalp.
Always curious to see whether I have accidentally absorbed either somebody else’s title or the zeitgeist, I Googled this title before exposing my book to the wider world. Imagine my horror when, out of approximately 30,000 search results, the majority were for Person & Covey dermatological scalp treatments. This was not what I wanted potential readers to find if they were ever to search for my novel. Scalp medications are about as unmysterious and unromantic as it gets.
Thanks to Person & Covey and their dedication to reliving the itchy heads of planet earth, my novel is now called The Tarney Scalp. Tarney is an anglicised version of the Manx word for thunder or storm: Taarnee. I settled on this after much time spent digging through an online Manx dictionary, eventually finding a word I liked that was relevant to the climax of my story.
The room filled with laughter recently when I announced that I had written a novel by accident. For me, though, so much about the book I wrote is accidental: its starting point, its lynchpins, its setting and most of all its title. If it makes it into print, and if anyone living in Peel other than my family puts together the gorse, the hill tower, and the Manx title and sees their own town, it won’t be an accident at all.
My brother at Corrin's Tower